How to Pull Off the Timeless Style of the Pocket Watch

Do you have the personal magnetism necessary to carry off the pocket watch look?  If you’ve got it, you will be in good company.

James Dean had a particular penchant for a gold-plated Elgin pocket watch from 1889.  He can be seen with his typical smouldering persona and his “lucky pocket”  watch in the Hollywood classic, East of Eden.


But James Dean isn’t the only fan. Johnny Depp is regularly seen wearing pocket watches, both on and off screen. Some might view it as old-fashioned, but in my opinion, it’s timeless.

If you’re going to pull off the pocket watch look with style, you need to know one or two things first. For starters, you need to know the right way to wear one.

A pocket watch can be attached to a belt loop on jeans, for the casual look, or from a lapel buttonhole with the watch sitting in your breast pocket if you want to be more formal.  

The classic look is achieved when the chain (it’s called an Albert chain, by the way) is slung across a waistcoat. The T-bar is inserted into the vest button hole allowing the chain attached to the pocket watch to drape softly into the vest pocket. Either pocket will do. In fact, there is also a version of chain called “The double Albert” where the second chain is made to hold your keys. In this case, both pockets are used.


More importantly, though, is choosing just the right pocket watch. There are two varieties of pocket watch – the ‘Open Face’ watch, and the ‘Hunter’s Case’ – which has a lid. Many of the older types used a key to wind the mechanism.

Many elegant specimens can be found at antique dealers, or even on e-bay (for a remarkably good price too). But this approach has its risks. You’re better off visiting a specialist watch boutique, if you want something truly worthwhile.

Surprisingly, some of the finest models to be had are not Swiss, but American.

Waltham, Hamilton and Elgin all made some remarkable pocket watches during the years of the steam power revolution, roughly between 1850 and the Second World War. They were designed to be very accurate, and to withstand the rigors of the railroad. They were working watches. Many are inscribed with the word “adjusted” which means that it has been tested under stringent conditions, fit for use by railroad officials.

Unlike their Swiss counterparts, American pocket watches were mass-produced and affordable. Many of the models had interchangeable parts. The American watches are also known for their intricate plate decoration, and luxuriant damascening technique on the cases and lids.

While most of them have a fairly “standard” railroad watch look, some are quite magnificent, like the one-of-a-kind version of the Hamilton 992, which was made some time around 1930. It’s transparent, skeletonized and has plates and bridges made of lucite.

If you prefer something a little more updated, you can’t go wrong with the new Roger Dubuis Hommage Millesime (meaning ‘vintage’)pocket watch, the first in a unique series of twenty, specially made for the watchmaker’s 20th anniversary.

Of course, in whichever way you choose to wear it, and whichever pocket watch you choose, always make sure you have the gentleman’s grace that will allow you to pull off the look without appearing fake.









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